Indeed, the philosopher's concept of enlightenment deserves a second look as it bore considerable influence on the cultural and social aspects of Western nations. This paper will discuss Mendelssohn's assertions with regards enlightenment and will explore the deeper implications of his claims.
Mendelssohn contends that 'Bildung or education, enlightenment and culture' are variations in the development of our social relations as these denote the end results of human beings' endeavours to improve their social standings (Mendelssohn 313). As humans strive to unify these social experiences through the accumulation of knowledge and through diligence, Mendelssohn believes that more education or bildung a group of people acquire. Education, thereby, is stratified into two areas: Culture and enlightenment. He states that 'culture is to enlightenment as theory is to practice' emphasising the necessity of understanding and applying the practical aspect of culture which for him mainly manifests in the aesthetics of the arts, customs, technological advancements and other tangible aspects of our cultural lives - qualities which connote 'human perfectibility.' Enlightenment, therefore, is founded mainly on cultural progress and on its practice. He adds that 'discernment' intensifies 'morality' while 'cultural criticism' enhances 'virtuosity' (314). Even if these concepts necessitate divergent definitions, 'they exist in the closest possible synergy' (314). Although these expressions are identical in concept, they equally represent the struggles of the individuals to develop themselves and improve their social position. He believes that artistic endeavours such as an architectural work portrays development and can bring society advantages as these impinge upon human perfection. He believes that human perfection can be used as a gauge to measure our struggles as well as a great prize. Moreover, Mendelssohn brings forth the notion of being 'polished' which according to him is parallel to being cultured. Nations whose 'polish' is the result of their efforts to achieve enlightenment should be praised. He contends that social class and status or vocation establishes that duties, responsibilities and rights of individuals in society which puts forth demands in relation to social status, talents, skills and incidences or tendencies. "The more these qualities correspond exactly to the different social classes with their professions, the more culture a nation possesses" (317).
This denotes the importance of both culture and enlightenment that the citizens and individuals must possess in that "all practical virtues only acquire meaning in relation to life in the social sphere" (315). As Mendelssohn asserts that culture and enlightenment are manifested in the aesthetics, the philosopher assumes that the human soul has learned to mimic beauty in different forms of arts. He challenges the prevailing concept and definitions of art and beauty and contends that our prevailing knowledge of aesthetics require redefinition but asserts that the most prevailing feature of beauty is 'sensuously perfect representation' which includes 'forms, orders and harmonies' and everything that can be perceived by the senses as 'perfection'(Philosophical Writings, 172). Through these assertions, the philosopher was able to concoct two significant conditions for the measurement of the aesthetics of fine arts and